PLANO — Reaper Nation was crawling with athletes on Monday afternoon, with Plano High School hosting Coal City in baseball and softball and Reaper Stadium hosting a track meet.
While the excitement at the athletic complex was palpable, perhaps the game on the softball field had the biggest significants on the day — especially if Coal City intended on holding onto hopes of winning the Interstate Eight Conference. Even after an 8-0 win over the Lady Reapers, the Lady Coalers know that they have their work cut out for them now.
“It’s going to be tough. The losses to Seneca and Herscher were not planned. It’s going to be tough from here on out,” Coal City coach Stephanie Harmon said. “The girls have to keep playing hard. We’ve still got two other goals, which are to beat Beecher and to advance out of a regional. We also still have some big teams on our schedule to play and we need to be playing well to beat them. It (winning conference) is attainable, but the girls are going to have to keep at it.”
Last week, the Coalers lost twice, which snapped a quality streak the team had been on.
“We had won nine in a row at one stretch but we’ve had a few hiccups here lately,” Harmon said. “We’ve struggled defensively, but it looks like we’ve figured that out again.”
The last two games, Coal City has also seemingly struggled offensively and in the pitcher’s circle.
“As a team we were in a slump. We couldn’t hit the ball and we made errors defensively, but we know that we have to stay together as a team,” winning pitcher Emily Aichele said. “I think we can fight through this. Even if we don’t win the conference, I think we’ll be fine with where we finish at.”
Even the often-steady Aichele takes responsibility for the mini slide heading into Monday’s game.
‘Emily has been struggling lately. When she is pitching well, she’s finding the plate,” Harmon said. “She did a good job of that today. She threw strikes and the defense did the job behind her.”
Aichele said that she agrees she needs to hit her spots in order to be successful.
“I’ve been through it before a lot of times. I know what to do,” she said. “Mainly it’s me not hitting my spots and do it with all of the pitches I have. Sometimes I get down on myself and I have to learn to fight through it. “
Work through it she did against the Reapers as she became the first pitcher this year to shut them out.
Meanwhile, the Coalers bats showed some life.
Aichele drove in the first run of the game in the second inning by singling home Hannah Boresi and the Coalers cashed in another run in the fourth when Abby Olsen scored from third when Madison Giordano reached on an error by the Plano third baseman.
Coal City got some breathing room in the top of the fifth.
Makenna Emerson doubled to start the frame and a grounder sent her to third. Boresi then singled her home. Two pitches later, Abby Olsen homered.
“It was high and a little inside, but it was right there where I wanted it,” Olsen said. “It was a perfect 2-0 pitch to hit.”
Olsen said that the adding padding of a 5-0 score was just what the team needed at the time.
“Getting a big lead gives the team a chance to settle down. It’s like the whole team takes a deep breath,” Olsen said. “Coming in, we needed some confidence and this helps. We got some hits today. I think this could provide the push we need for the finish to the season.”
Coal City scored three more in the top of the seventh with the highlight coming on a home run off the bat of catcher Gabby Bonic.
The Coalers are now 13-6 overall and 9-4 in the I-8. They host Plano on Tuesday.